I wonder if this is what her teachers saw when they looked upon her form–relaxed yet graceful, calm yet slightly curious, a myriad of appearances. Her lips press together serenely, eyebrows dormant, hands loose and unfolded on the table in front of her.
Eyes. Deep, blue eyes blinking slowly at the mirrored window. Eyes on us.
“This feels sick,” I murmur to Reid, who’s had a hardened stare fixed upon the young girl for the past fifteen minutes.
“I’ll tell you what’s sick,” he replies flatly. “Her torturing and murdering that boy in cold blood.” He turns toward me, running his hand over his face in a long, tired movement. “Just go in.”
Her eyes have been fixed on mine for the past minute. Unwavering. Her eyebrows are slightly raised, her disposition mild and bored, as if she’s questioning what I want with her.
I let out a frustrated breath and look away; slithering droplets of sweat slowly collect at the nape of my neck. Clearly, she’s not going to make things any easier for me here. I automatically glance toward the window behind which I know the other officers are watching and bite my lip in consternation. She’s no ordinary criminal. Well, the unique part might be that she is ordinary–ordinary, and slightly off the rails.
You know that feeling when you’ve killed one huge, red-tinted spider on the loose, but you feel like there must be more festering about in the room? Your skin squirms on your body and itches? That’s the kind of feeling being within this girl’s radius gives me.
I straighten my back and clap my eyes back on her; she’s still looking at me, but now her mouth is slightly turned up at the corners, mockingly. Okay, she’s definitely more than slightly off the rails.
“Let’s start with the most simple question, shall we?” My rhetorical inquiry is met with a widening smirk. “What’s your name?” Easy enough. If she lies, she’s either completely stupid or crazy.
She answers right away. “Jane Doe.”
I almost laugh, but catch myself. “You might as well be.”
Her smirk does not waver. “You obviously know my real name.”
I incline my head slightly. “True. But there’s no need for the difficult attitude.”
I sigh, and decide to cut the crap. “Why did you do it?”
Her smirk transforms into a genuine smile and she actually looks human for a moment–like a lovely, fresh-faced schoolgirl. “Stamp out that worthless dipshit, you mean?” My expression must have twisted at her crass phrasing because she flashes her teeth in a Cheshire cat-like half moon of indulgent glee. “Relax. I’ve learned to call things as they are. We’re all being honest here, right?” Her eyes drift casually to the mirrored window.
I don’t answer, just keep my eyes trained on the girl.
She laces her fingers together languidly, slowly. “He was deserving of his fate,” she says softly. She sounds as if she is cooing at a child, comforting, sweet. Her tone is grossly out of context.
“Deserving of death at the age of seventeen? Deserving of not being able to live the rest of his life?” I cannot help the biting edge that creeps into my words.
“Stay cool, Michael,” comes the warning in my earpiece. Reid. He knows it’s my first interrogation. Why they would give me this girl, I do not know. I silently curse my superiors and shake my head slightly, taking a deep breath, closing my eyes. When I open them, I see ‘Jane Doe’ watching me with half-lidded eyes, her lip curled in derisive pity. She can see right through me. She understands and revels in my misery. I hate her for it, hate and fear her.
“Let me tell you my side of the story.” She leans forward on her forearms and I can’t help but flinch at the forward movement. She scornfully ignores that moment of weakness. “There was this boy. A friend. Started out like any other, you know. It’s not like I didn’t have other guy friends,” she shrugged. “Seemingly nice kid–normal. We had the same friends, so obviously we spent quite a bit of time together. I don’t even know how I ended up falling for him; he is–oops, excuse me, was–such a moronic idiot.” She laughs. The sound is throaty and full, full of life and charm. “The way he treated me was… flattering. It started out pretty subtly. He would ask me for help in silly things, like psychology homework–general school stuff, you know. The norm.” She pauses, almost as if she’s waiting for dramatic effect. Then a sickening feeling comes over me as I realize she is allowing time for the recorder to finish typing her words.
“It got worse. He stopped asking for easy things, like a summary of a short story or an analysis of a poem, and started pleading, begging”–she spits out the word–“for my work. That’s my brain, you know, on three quarters of his junior year curriculum. Doesn’t matter what class. Even in his science and math classes–regular, might I add, not AP like mine–I knew more than he did. God!” She throws back her head and barks out a rougher, sardonic laugh. “I was a fool. Plagiarism.” She spits the word, and saliva actually flies from her mouth. I recoil, because any part of her could be poisonous. “He basically plundered my brain, mashed his grubby fingers in that precious material, and scooped out whatever he pleased–messily, greedily.” She leans closer. “You should know that my thoughts are most dear to me. I’m smart. I know that. I wouldn’t have gotten caught, you know, if I hadn’t allowed it.”
That smile again. I shift uncomfortably.
“And I wish I could correct your judgment of my being a psychopath and wittily inform you that I am a ‘high-functioning sociopath,’ but unfortunately, I can’t. I really am a psychopath. I plan meticulously–scheme, you might say–and I don’t really enjoy anyone’s company. But the flamboyance is my weakness.” She winks, perversely, and I feel exposed. “Crazy people don’t sit around wondering if they’re nuts; they get shit done.”
That sounds familiar. “Who said that?”
“Jake Gyllenhaal. From Proof.” Again, so weirdly normal, yet not.
“Anyway,” she settles back, crossing her long legs grandly, “I guess it’s unfair to say that little shithead was completely stupid–he wasn’t a total idiot. He knew he could take advantage of my feelings for him. I don’t even want to know what he was doing while I was slaving away doing his work for him. Thank goodness his pathetic life ended before college applications. Who knows what he would have put me through then,” she snorts and looks away. She pauses again, and her eyes narrow. “I really have to give him some credit. He must have gotten a kick out of toying with me. He certainly knew how to manipulate me–me, can you imagine–and make me feel like he felt the same, just to keep me going. It was disgusting.”
He was disgusting?
“Something about him–I don’t quite know what, maybe his smile or the way he looked at me–was so unfailingly alluring. The way he walked, maybe. I don’t know. It doesn’t matter now, that’s all gone.” She waves her hand nonchalantly in dismissal. I envision that same hand casually tossing the boy’s life into a garbage can. “So, I decided I’d had enough of his enticing touches and snake-like words–I wanted out. I stopped talking to him, avoided him; I didn’t want to be his friend anymore. Friendship can’t work, you know, when one person wants more than the other.” I start slightly at this oddly ordinary aphorism.
“It was depressing. I missed him. He could be funny, of course, and I told you already about his unending, subtle charms. I wrote a letter as catharsis, kind of a way of letting go.”
“Like a love letter?”
She shrugs. “Call it what you will, although that terminology is rather degrading and unimaginative. But I never intended for him to see it; it was for my purposes only.” I nod, signaling my comprehension and indicating for her to continue. When she’s saying stuff like this, it’s easy to pretend she’s just another juvenile.
“Someone found the letter–one of his bitch girlfriends.”
“Wait–he had multiple girlfriends at a time?” I can’t stop my curiosity. What a soap opera.
“Keep your focus, Michael,” I hear Reid murmur, though he sounds uncomfortably amused. “Don’t let her run the interrogation.”
“Like I said, I didn’t want to know. Ignorance is bliss. I did hear rumors, though, about his string of…acquaintances.” She wrinkles her nose delicately. “Anyway, showing the letter to him wasn’t enough for that girl. Passing it around her friends, his friends, my friends, wasn’t enough. Oh no–she had to go even further and put it online, make sure that everyone, people who didn’t even know me or him, knew about the situation. The pathetic girl who was hopelessly in love with an even more pathetic boy!” She hisses through her teeth as she leans farther forward until the ends of her long hair drag onto the silver table between us. And I swear I see fire alight behind her demonic pupils.
“That’s cyber-bullying,” I inform her dumbly, trying futilely to relax my hands’ grip on the sides of my cold chair.
Her eyes dim and she straightens, one corner of her mouth lifting in amusement. She shrugs off-handedly. “Yeah, I know. But it’s quite a sad term for such a horrendous offense, don’t you think? It’s not just bullying. It’s tearing someone open and exposing her to the world. It’s the demolition of pride and dignity.”
“You speak of it as if it’s an offense as terrible as rape.”
She narrows her eyes at me. “Who’s to say that one offense is more offensive than another? Do the people who make these laws know how it feels to be plundered and left for dead? How do those ‘authorities’ know what it feels like to be put on public display and shamed? Do they? Do they know?” She stops and catches her breath, seeming to remember herself, and smiles a slow, hauntingly lovely smile. “Oh, I apologize. You’re one of them.” She indicates the mirrored barrier. “I almost forgot. And here we were having quite a pleasant conversation, weren’t we?”
Is this what you would call pleasant?
As if she can read my mind, she bursts out laughing, like she just told a brilliant joke and I’m the punch line. “Sorry. Maybe not pleasant for you,” she says between chuckles.
I clear my throat awkwardly and wait for her to collect herself before continuing. “So, that’s all there is to it? They humiliated you and you decided to show them who was boss?”
She snorted. “You make it sound so childish. Please. You have to admit the way I executed my plan was not childish at all.” With the image of the young boy’s mutilated body branded on the inside of my eyelids, I silently concede that she is certainly right about that, not that I would ever openly admit it to her–not that I need to. She’s self-satisfied enough.
“He brought it on himself. I mean, look, he didn’t stop anything. He let the laughter, the jeers, come at me unhindered. Actually carrying out a deed is one thing, but standing by and letting it happen–that’s a crime too serious to be named.”
I raise my eyebrows, intrigued. “Oh yeah? How do you figure that?”
“When you make the conscious decision to do something, you tacitly take responsibility for it and its outcome. And you take the initiative to do it. When you stand by and watch, you’re lying to yourself, which is the worst thing you can do. You’re telling yourself that you’re innocent because you’re not a part of it, even though you are. If you’re a witness, you’re liable. There is always a choice.”
So maybe she’s right about some things.
“You asked me why I did it. I’ll tell you why; it wasn’t because of what they did. It wasn’t even really about revenge. Sure, they might as well have gone back to the Middle Ages and done something akin to drawing and quartering me like the English did to William Wallace. But I can deal with humiliation, you know. I’m not a wuss. No, the last straw was that they misconstrued my silence for concession–like I was giving up or something. Like I was telling them they had won. They thought they’d beaten me!” She lets out an incredulous laugh. “As if! Well, now they know, don’t they? They can’t mess with someone like me. That’s why I left the rest of those worthless, soulless worms alive, and took only the dipshit’s life for indulgence. It’s just to show–never underestimate someone.”
I stare at her, trying to string together these jigsaw pieces of words that are spilling out of her mouth. None of it seems to go together, and yet, it makes perfect, twisted sense.
“You guys think you know people. You think you’ve got them all figured out, like you can categorize them and file them away into your adorable, individualized little boxes. You think you know what’s possible in this world and what’s not, what’s right and what’s wrong. But you see, you’re wrong. You don’t know shit.” She leans back against her chair and crosses her arms, smiling slightly. “Maybe I was teaching you a lesson, too.”
I look back at her, into those wide, deep eyes. Painfully confused. Entranced. Trapped. Like a mouse charmed by a snake. And I wonder who truly has the upper hand between the two of us. For, in that moment, it feels as if the tables have turned.
“Get the hell out of there, Michael.”
“It was fun talking to you,” a voice behind my fleeing figure calls, laughingly.